Consultation slammed as parents speak against plan to close college at heart of their community

Parents have spoken out against proposals to close the school they see as being the heart of their community.

DM1611078a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212341008
DM1611078a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212341008

Rydon Community College found itself facing closure as West Sussex County Council launched its second public consultation into the reorganisation of education in the Storrington area.

Known as STARS schools, the area is the last in West Sussex with an educational system where the age children transfer to secondary school does not match the Key Stages within the National Curriculum.

While all other children head up to secondary school at the end of Key Stage 2, aged 11, STARS children pass through a middle school stage before moving up at the age of 13.

DM1611078a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212341008

It is a system the majority of Rydon parents seem to prefer – and they have been vocal in their support of the college, which the council wants to close, using the buildings to house Thakeham School and a satellite site for 11-12 year olds from Steyning Grammar School.

The possibility of closure, coupled with what many saw as a “flawed” consultation has left parents, staff and governors frustrated with the county council’s approach to the situation.

Dr Mark Appleton was one of several parents who pointed out he and others had been shouted down when they first raised fears of closure last summer.

He said: “We were accused of scaremongering when we raised the threat of Rydon closing at the time of the first consultation. In fact, the views of the 1,600 local residents were completely disregarded as there was no proposal to close Rydon at the time, we were told.”

DM1611123a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212235008

He certainly has a point.

In July 2015, after parents marched en masse to a public consultation at Sullington Parish Hall, Pat Arculus, West Sussex County Council’s chairman, told the meeting: “The only people talking about closing Rydon are people from Rydon.”

Now closing Rydon is the most talked about item on the agenda as the second consultation heads into its third week.

When it came to the views of the 1,600 local residents mentioned by Dr Appleton, they had responded to a 12,000-strong letter drop by Rydon, explaining the college’s ambition to become a secondary school for 11-16-year-olds.

DM1611135a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Parents outside the school. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212159008

The county council, though, said it had only received 1,012 responses to the first consultation, so it appears not all of Rydon’s supporters took part. So, what difference could a few extra comments have made?

For some of the parents, the answer would be ‘none’, with many sharing the view Rydon’s fate had been decided long before the consultations took place.

Parent Chris White said the consultation had been “deliberately designed to enable the answers to fit a preconceived outcome of the council’s preference”.

He added: “From its timing and the structure of the questions, it was obvious from the outset that there was already a preferred proposal on the table that was likely to be emotive to parents and children alike.”

DM1611167a.jpg Protest over plans to close Rydon Community College. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160118-212057008

Sarah Scott questioned whether the views of those who had responded to the first consultation had been taken into account.

The responses, which were published by the council in December, showed 377 people (44.30 per cent) were against the idea of children transferring to secondary school at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6) while only 368 (43.24 per cent) were in favour. Some 106 people didn’t have a particular view, while 161 chose not to answer the question.

Sarah said: “The results of first consultation have been completely ignored. The vast majority of respondents made it clear they supported age 11-16 secondary provision at Rydon but this has not been included as an option on the second consultation.

“In addition, all of the public consultation meetings have been arranged at an inconvenient time for parents – early evening – and have also clashed with other important school meeting such as the Year 8 options evening.”

One of the main reasons given for the proposed changes was the need to cut out the middle school stage so children only had to make one change between primary and secondary school.

In the county council’s consultation document it states: “National research, which is supported by evidence in West Sussex, shows that children make better progress if the number of transitions a child has to make is minimised.”

Why then, parents have argued, would it be acceptable for Steyning Grammar (SGS) to open a site at Rydon where children in Years 7 and 8 would be taught before heading over to the main school in Year 9?

One parent said: “Children in the STARS area will leave primary school to the Steyning annexe site wearing a blue SGS jumper for those two years then moving to a new site over seven miles away.

“This is still two transitions not one! The whole aim of the phase 1 consultation was to reduce transitions. These proposals have not done that.”

Rydon has been keen to expand from its current format – in which it educates children from Year 6 to Year 8 – to become an 11-16 secondary school, which would cut out one of the transitions.

The county council, though, dismissed that option citing financial pressures, a lack of foreseeable demand for places and the impact the opening of such a school would have on other secondary schools, such as Steyning Grammar.

The decision was one which left parents bemused.

Chris White said: “I believe that an 11-16 school at Rydon will build on the great work that they already achieve and remain at the heart of the community that it serves, and in a way that will be beneficial to our children’s education, development and wellbeing that a large industrial scale school can never provide.

“It will also provide additional secondary education choice for parents who would have otherwise wished to send their children beyond the catchment of Steyning.”

Sarah Scott added: “Expanding Rydon to an age 11-16 school is the only solution that actually achieves the county council’s own stated aims of aligning the timing of transitions between schools to the National Curriculum and minimising the number of school transitions.

“Retaining and expanding Rydon also increases rather than removes choice for parents in the area, provides capacity for future growth in secondary pupil numbers and ensures that we retain a well-run secondary school at the heart of our community.

Sharon Roberts summed up the feelings of many when she said: “I think the way the consultation has been handled is terrible. The majority of people stated they wanted an 11-16 secondary school but this was ignored and is now not an option it seems.

“The people running the consultation don’t seem to understand why we would want a local school.”

Sharon Fry, who has children at Rydon and Steyning, added: “I think to close a school that is Ofsted rated ‘good’ with ‘outstanding’ features is a shame. Children start the school below the national average and leave above.

“I think to change a school system purely to fit with the rest of West Sussex is not looking properly at what’s in front of you, so how can you be making the best choice for the children’s education?”

The support from Rydon parents was by no means unanimous, though.

Sarah Rose referred to the college’s Key Stage 2 results for 2015 in which only 67 per cent of children achieved the expected level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths. The figure was 10 per cent below that achieved by the local authority as a whole and 13 per cent below the national figure.

Saying she had “very little faith” in the leadership at Rydon, Sarah added: “I think the children will benefit more from the same teachers teaching them at SGS as at the Rock Road site, this will help with the transition to GCSEs. Whatever happens it will affect my daughter. She is currently in Year 5 and due to move in July this year. I am still unsure where she will be going.”

That concern for her child’s education was shared by Marc Oratis, who said: “My daughter should also be going to Rydon if it was an 11-16 school, but with all the uncertainty and the likelihood of disruption for a few years should Rydon close, we felt it was better to move her now while we had the opportunity.”

The second consultation will end at midnight on February 12 before the information is passed to Councillor Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills.

The fate of Rydon lays very much in Mr Burrett’s hands – and he will announce his decision in June.

Mr Burrett and his colleagues have vehemently denied accusations the consultation was a sham and the decision was made long ago – and he has first-hand experience of the county council changing its mind in the face of strong public opinion.

When Crawley went through the same process faced by Rydon et al, the council’s plans to close or merge a number of schools underwent extensive changes thanks to the efforts of staff, parents and the community to prove the proposals unworkable or unnecessary.

Perhaps history will repeat itself for Rydon. If it doesn’t, it won’t be due to a lack of effort from those determined to protect the beating heart of their community.

From the chair of governors:

Academy plan would be ‘golden opportunity’ for children

As chair of Governors at Rydon Community College, I read with interest Dawn Watson-Jones’ letter to Nick Herbert MP in last week’s edition, offering unequivocal support for the county council proposal to close Rydon and replace it with a split site two-year annexe of Steyning Grammar School.

It is a matter of some sadness that headteachers from our first schools should add their support to the possible closure of a very good school.

However, Rydon’s relationship with the local first schools has always been characterised by strong co-operation and I am sure our headteacher Allison Murphy, and her staff, will ensure that continues.

Of course, it presupposes we will be an 11-16 school by 2017 and I have no doubt we will be.

I believe there are many parents across the whole of our community who want to support Rydon’s vision. I hope the following comments are helpful.

For over 30 years it has been a county council priority to remove split site schools. Initially, there were 12 such schools but the number now stands at two. For the pupils, sufficient access to specialist staff or the specialised provision located on the main school site was always a problem.

For staff, a career focused on younger children only was not attractive. Some schools created a timetable for staff to travel between sites. This was expensive and complicated.

For the past decade, the local authority education policy has been to minimise the number of transfers a pupil experiences and to create a pattern of reasonably sized primary schools with transfer at the end of Year 6 to either an 11-16 or 11-18 secondary school.

Rydon Governors fully accept the logic of minimising school changes and transfer at the end of Year 6, but are also rightly proud of the fact that throughout the long history of Rydon, it has provided good and outstanding secondary school opportunities for young people and the local community.

Remodelling the Rydon site, using academy funding, will provide quality provision at the heart of a well-established and growing community in a cost effective manner.

The school can move to 11-14 provision in 2017 using the existing buildings thus fulfilling a key county priority for all pupil transfer to take place at the end of Year 6. Beyond this, the school can then grow year on year as the remodelling work is completed.

The framework of a five or six form of entry, 11-16 school will enable those in Year 7 and 8, as well as the later years to have a broad balanced curriculum and extra- curricular offer. It will provide the full range of career opportunities that will enable the school to attract and retain high quality staff. It will have a single site based leadership structure that is equipped to develop a new school from scratch and and can focus on high quality teaching and learning. It will be a school where the results at Key Stage 3 and 4 are unambiguously the responsibility of a single set of staff and governors. It will help eliminate the impact of a split site 11-16 existence for Storrington area families. It will reduce travel costs in perpetuity. Local parents and their children will have a high quality school based in their local and growing community.

This is a proposal that totally has Storrington area children and their educational progress at its heart and taps into parents’ natural instinct as to what is best for their children. It’s a golden opportunity.

Alan Brien

What are the proposals?

Three proposals are on the table as part of the second phase of the public consultation. They are:

Increasing the age range from 4-10 (Years R-5) to 4-11 (Years R-6) at Amberley CE First School, Ashington CE First School, St Mary’s CE First School (Washington), Storrington First School and West Chiltington Community School.

Increasing the age range from 4-10 (Years R-5) to 4-11 (Years R-6) at Thakeham First School, and relocating the school to buildings appropriate for primary phase education in part of the current Rydon Community College Campus in Rock Road, Storrington.

Closing Rydon Community College and opening a second site of Steyning Grammar School in part of the Rydon campus in Rock Road, Storrington, providing education provision for the age range 11-12 (Years 7 and 8). Three public meetings have so far been held as part of the second consultation. A fourth is scheduled for Tuesday January 26, from 6-7.30pm at Ashington CE First School, Foster Lane, Ashington RH20 3PG. The consultation closes at midnight on February 12. The documents can be viewed online at .

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